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Global Ponzi Scheme Used Medical Cannabis to Lure Victims; Here's how it was Busted

The scam is estimated to have stolen from victims across 35 countries, mainly in Europe and the UK.
PUBLISHED APR 15, 2024
Cover Image Source: Leaves of a mature marijuana plant are seen on a display | Getty Images | Photo by Justin Sullivan
Cover Image Source: Leaves of a mature marijuana plant are seen on a display | Getty Images | Photo by Justin Sullivan

With medical cannabis giving rise to a whole new global market, shady elements have found their way into the insdustry to make the most of the opportunity. One such attempt at siphoning off money by luring victims using medical cannabis was busted by authorities in Spain. Nine members of a gang that allegedly operated an international Ponzi scheme, that defrauded victims from 35 countries for $686.41 million, as per the official press release. The Spanish National Police announced the arrest on their official Twitter account and showed footage of the arrests.



The gang of scammers, ran an elaborate marketing system to lure victims for the company called JuciyFields. It lured victims with a fake business model which they claimed was using investors' money to grow cannabis plants. They ran an elaborate marketing system and attended international cannabis fairs to convince victims to invest in their company, the Spanish National Police said in a statement.

Representative image of one-ounce bags of medicinal marijuana | Getty Images | Photo by Justin Sullivan
Representative image of one-ounce bags of medicinal marijuana | Getty Images | Photo by Justin Sullivan

"With this system, they promised victims profits of between 70% and 168% per year, depending on the species of cannabis in which they invested, Silvia Garrido, a Spanish police spokeswoman told Reuters. The British National Crime Agency (NCA), which also was a part of the operation, said JuicyFields was a notorious and elaborate Ponzi fraud scheme. According to Europol’s release, investors could sign up for the so-called “e-growing opportunity” with a minimum initial investment of at least $1.07. Investors were promised that they'd be linked with producers of medical cannabis and the company assured that each e-grower will collect high profits from the sale and purchase of such cannabis plants.

Representative image of a marijuana plant forming cola at a farm's indoor grow room | Getty Images | Photo by Bob Berg
Representative image of a marijuana plant forming cola at a farm's indoor grow room | Getty Images | Photo by Bob Berg

An estimated 550,000 participants worldwide were registered as online investors in the JuicyFields scheme. Out of this, about 186,000 participants transferred funds into the elaborate Ponzi scheme via bank transfers and cryptocurrencies between early 2020 and July 2022. The company ran elaborate online marketing campaigns using luxury cars, hotel parties, and music videos. The advertising campaigns on social media were used to promote the scheme, and police as well as some of the victims were even taken to legal cannabis plantations for a tour.

The joint effort which the Spanish police called Operation Stoner was conducted by police forces from several countries to shut down JuicyFields. Europol said that the investigators pieced breadcrumbs of digital evidence together to create a joint intelligence picture that allowed police forces across Europe to initiate the wave of arrests.



The suspects were mainly of Russian descent and some of them were also of Dutch, German, Italian, Latvian, Maltese, Polish, Jordanian, United States, and Venezuelan nationality. used advertisements to lure victims to their websites. The Russian national is suspected to be one of the main organizers of the cannabis Ponzi scheme. After conducting the raids, so far, the Police have frozen bank accounts containing $62,459, $123,960 worth of cryptocurrencies, and $112,981 in cash was recovered. Properties worth approximately $2.77 billion were also seized. The NCA had stated that on April 11, a 42-year-old man appeared in a London court for the start of extradition proceedings.

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